Battle of the beautiful: How does the Pixelbook stack up to the MacBook Pro?

pixelbook vs. macbook pro
The new premium Chromebook from Google is here, and it’s called the Pixelbook. It’s a flashy laptop with a bold design that might make you question your resolve to buy the 13-inch MacBook Pro you had your eye on. However, that decision might not be as clear cut as you think.

In some ways, these computers were built with the same kind of person in mind — someone who wants a computer that looks as good as it runs. In other ways, particularly in terms of software and operating system, these are two very different laptops that can serve very different purposes.

Before you make the jump to Chrome OS or open up your wallet for Apple, check out our Pixelbook vs. MacBook Pro comparison.

Specifications

 MacBook Pro

macbook pro 13 inch 2015 vs 2016 tb

 Google Pixelbook

 Google Pixelbook

Dimensions 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.59 (in) 11.4 x 8.7 x 0.40 (in)
Weight 3.0 pounds 2.4 pounds
Keyboard Full size backlit keyboard Full size backlit keyboard
Processor Up to seventh-generation Intel Core i7 Up to seventh-generation Intel Core i7-7Y57
RAM 8GB or 16GB 8GB or 16GB
Graphics Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650
Intel HD Graphics 620
Display 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology 12.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Resolution 2,560 x 1,600 (227 ppi) 2,400 x 1,600 (235 ppi)
Storage Up to 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD Up to 512GB NVMe SSD
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Ports Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (2) – non-Touch Bar version
Thunderbolt 3 USB-C (4) – Touch Bar version
USB-C 3.1 (2), headphone jack
Webcam 720p FaceTime HD camera 720p webcam
Operating System MacOS High Sierra Chrome OS
Battery 54.5 watt-hour 41 watt-hour
Price $1,299+ $1,000+
Availability Now (Apple Store) Base model now (Google Play Store)
Review Full Review: 6/10 Full review: 7/10

Design

Good news: laptops no longer look like black slabs, devoid of personality. Whether you’re looking at machines from Dell, Microsoft, or HP, design has finally become an important aspect of laptops across the board.

The Pixelbook and the MacBook Pro are two of the most beautiful and unique laptops ever made. The 13-inch, late-2016 MacBook Pro looks fairly similar to previous iterations, especially from the outside. It has the classic unibody, aluminum chassis that has become iconic of the MacBook line. Once you open the machine, however, you’ll see the narrowed-down bezels, expanded TouchPad, shallow keys, and thinner body. Some models also offer the Touch Bar, a small OLED touchscreen that shows contextual options. 

Google’s Pixelbook is a new design that matches the look of the Pixel smartphones. On the lid, you’ll find the same two-tone color scheme of aluminum and glass, with some similar design language happening on the inside across the keyboard and palm rests. The only part of the design that feels out of place are the chubby bezels that surround the 12.3-inch screen.

Google Pixelbook hands-on review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Switching back and forth between the two laptops, the two most notable differences are the bezels on the display and the overall weight of the laptops. The MacBook Pro weighs 3.02 pounds, which is nothing to sneeze at, while the Pixelbook weighs just 2.43 pounds. It’s not quite as the light as the 12-inch MacBook, but it’s impressively light nonetheless.

It’s admittedly difficult to pick from these two, and we do think both are nice systems. However, we have to go with the classic MacBook Pro. While the Pixelbook is handsome, it has a few small quirks, like a slippery glass panel on the display lid that can make the laptop hard to keep in your hand. The MacBook Pro feels more mature.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Features

The Pixelbook is a laptop with a 360 degree hinge, meaning the lid can be folded around to tent mode, and even all the way around to tablet mode. That also means that the Pixelbook has a touchscreen and a stylus (though the latter is a $100 option), two features the MacBook Pro is lacking.

Unlike the rest of the computing industry, Apple has resisted the trend of touchscreen laptops, and instead introduced the Touch Bar as a solution to that problem. The Touch Bar is a small, OLED touchscreen that shows contextual options. However, it hasn’t been supported as well as Apple may have hoped. 

apples new macbook pros stand out but dont dominate pro 2016 main

Though Chrome OS isn’t designed with the touchscreen in mind, the addition of Android app capabilities do make a case for touch as an input method on the Pixelbook. To make things even sweeter, the Pixelbook has an extremely impressive display with a pixel density even better than the MacBook Pro.

In terms of port selection, the two computers look forward to a USB-C future, leaving behind the world of USB-A, power, HDMI, SD card, ethernet, and every other port you have on your old computer. That’s probably going to rule out some people from wanting either of these laptops, but Google and Apple seem to be aligned on their stance toward port selection. The base Pixelbook and MacBook Pro both have two USB-C ports, but the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has four ports. 

Winner: Pixelbook

Performance

The Pixelbook comes with a standard Intel Core i5-7Y57 processor, upgradable to a Core i7. While still a capable processor, it’s not the standard Core i5 processor that you see in many Windows, and some Mac, laptops. Still, the Core i5-7Y57 is a good match for the Pixelbook. If you want to play graphic-intensive games or edit 4K video, you probably won’t be interested in a Chromebook to begin with. In the tasks Chromebooks are actually made for, the Pixelbook won’t skip a beat.

Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro does actually use a standard Core i5 processor and can be configured up to an Intel Core i7 with a “Turbo Boost” up to 4.0GHz. While you’ll have to turn to the 15-inch version for a discrete graphics card, the 13-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t disappoint in performance. In fact, in our single-core test on GeekBench 4, the MacBook Pro scored better than all its competitors, including hard-hitters like the Surface Book with Performance Base and the Lenovo Yoga 910. As our review points out, gaming on the MacBook Pro still isn’t up to par, but creative professionals should be happy with what they’re getting on this laptop.

google pixel vs samsung chromebook pro pixelbook design 4

While both machines can do what they claim, the MacBook Pro is the more capable laptop in terms of performance. Throw in incredibly fast hard drive performance, and the MacBook Pro is the clear winner in this category.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Battery Life

Laptops in the Chromebook and MacBook lines are both known for their endurance. While some of the standard benchmarks don’t work in Chrome OS, for our review of the Pixelbook we did run the Basemark browser benchmark to see what it could do. The Pixelbook saw surprisingly good results, lasting four hours and ten minutes, and beating competitors like the Surface Pro and 12-inch MacBook.

The MacBook Pro’s battery life is on par with similar 13-inch laptops of its ilk, but it doesn’t exceed expectations. Apple used to be the leader in this category with its laptops, but its numbers have remained the same as competitors’ have risen.

Here’s what matters in the end: both the Pixelbook and the MacBook Pro claim a 10-hour battery life. From our tests, the Pixelbook hits that mark more reliably.

Winner: Pixelbook

Software

The software experience on these two laptops are quite different. The MacBook Pro runs MacOS, a full-fledged desktop operating system, while Chrome OS is a pared down software experience that has limited functionality. You can’t open up Chrome and just download your favorite software application with Chrome OS. Your access is limited to what’s available in the browser and in the form of extensions in the Chrome Web Store. In addition, Google has also expanded app access to the Google Play Store.

Google Pixelbook Pen
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

You can do more with these options than you might assume, especially with the addition of Android app compatibility. For some, the idea of getting access to the wealth of Android apps and games on a laptop might sound enticing, especially since it’s something Apple has hesitated to do with its own App Store and MacOS. However, there’s doubting the fact that MacOS is a much more expansive system that Apple is constantly updating and working on. We haven’t seen that kind of commitment from Google quite yet.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Price & Configurations

Both of these computers are not inexpensive for what you get. In both cases, you can find alternatives such as the excellent Dell XPS 13 or Samsung Chromebook Pro. What you are paying for with both the MacBook Pro and Pixelbook is the premium design, brand name, and exclusive features.

The lowest-priced MacBook Pro is the $1,300 non-Touch Bar 13.3-inch version with 128GB of SSD storage. The entry-level configuration of the Pixelbook starts at $1,000 and comes with 128GB of SSD storage. Both laptops at that price utilize the Intel Core 7th-gen i5 CPU and come with 8GB of RAM.

Winner: Draw

Overall Winner: MacBook Pro

how to change the background on a mac macbook pro 2016 hero 1500x1000
Digital Trends
Digital Trends

The Pixelbook is an impressive attempt by Google to show the world that it’s serious about Chromebooks. Everything from the build quality and the display to the details of the keyboard have been meticulously designed to please.

But despite the fact that Chrome OS has come a long way from where it was (and that Apple stumbled on the launch of the Touch Bar), the MacBook Pro is a much less limited computing experience — especially for only $200 more. So as long we’re talking about the non-Touch Bar model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it’s going to get our vote. 

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